Archive | In My Mind’s I

A meaningful Star of David makes its debut

Posted on 16 January 2019 by admin

I made a promise to myself on the day of the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre in my native Pittsburgh: I would no longer go out in public without something identifiably Jewish around my neck. I have stars, Hamsas, even a miniature State of Israel made there from the metal of a scud rocket. I have silver and gold to match any outfit. As if that were the important thing, which of course it is not…
What is important: I can finally let go of the shaming insult I received as a teenager from a shoe salesman. Too bad my feet are long and narrow and hard to fit; what he commented on was the necklace I was wearing. And what he said was, “You Star of David girls are never satisfied with anything.” I didn’t wear anything identifiably Jewish after that — except in Jewish settings only — my Boubby the Philosopher’s old star, set with bits of marcasite that sparkled like diamonds.
She gave it to me immediately after my wedding, just before my husband and I left for New York to be unit directors at a big Jewish camp in the Catskills. I put it on and never took it off until, in mid-August, the chain broke, and I put the star aside to await my next chance to shop for a replacement. But it never happened, because that same night, the staff residence in which we lived burned to the ground, taking Boubby’s star along with it. I’ve tried for years to replace it, but — as the old saying goes — “close, but no cigar.”
That lost star isn’t my favorite story. This one is: When Fred and I visited Poland, first we saw the Holocaust horror sites, but then we visited one of the country’s other main draws: the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Krakow. It’s really an underground museum, since miners over centuries have carved statues in that salt. Down we went on an elevator with other visitors for a long look. Previously, in both Warsaw and Krakow, I had visited shop after shop stocked with items carved from the ubiquitous amber of that area, looking in vain for any Jewish star. There were hundreds and thousands of crosses in all sizes, but not a star anywhere. Should I have been surprised? Frustrated.
I just abandoned my search.
But of course, this mine, like most tourist attractions, had a gift shop, where I gave my hunt one last try: “Do you have any six-pointed stars?” I asked the young woman behind the counter. “A Jewish star?” She answered no, which didn’t surprise me. But as I started to walk away, she called me back to wait a moment. And, reaching under her counter, she brought up a small box of odds-and-ends, pulling from it a pair of earrings — small, dangling stars of silver, each centered with amber. I asked no questions, paid whatever she wanted and brought my treasure home.
I do not wear earrings, having been warned never to put any weight on either ear ‘way back in 1969, when I had surgery to remove a tumor from behind the right one. So, I took these to a jeweler friend, who formed a pendant for me — one star atop the other. Today was my day to wear it for the first time since the massacre.
Since making that personal promise to wear a Jewish symbol every day for the rest of my life, I have done so. And no one yet has ever made a comment on anything that was hanging around my neck. Sorry to disappoint you, but today (which was a week before you’re reading this), nobody said a word, either. I’m disappointed, myself. And I puzzle over this: Are my most treasured symbols invisible? Well, it doesn’t matter: It was enough just to be a proud, public Jew, wearing what may well have been the last Jewish stars left in Poland.

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New customs are great, but I prefer the old ways

Posted on 10 January 2019 by admin

“Wow! That would really jar your mother’s pickles!” That was the nonsensical phrase my own mother always used when something strange hovered on her horizon. I’ve never used it until now, but there’s a first time for everything, I guess. For me, this is it.
The Women’s League for Conservative Judaism (since I’m a Jew strongly identified with a Conservative congregation, that’s one of my favorite organizations) has announced that — just in time for the annual World Wide Wrap begun years ago by the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs — it’s now joining the men to “truly educate and encourage women to don tefillin, and embrace the mitzvah…” The premise — and promise — are to give women the increased spirituality that men achieve by drawing closer to God in this particular way.
“Spirituality” is a buzzword these days. I recently received a pamphlet about how to be spiritual without being religious. But I consider myself both: a person religious and spiritual, without separating the two. I have never thought tefillin would increase either of these things.
Full disclosure: My being religious and spiritual is not only possible and present without tefillin, but I embrace both without a tallit as well. My decision not to wear that came a long, long time ago, because I was educated in Judaism a long, long time ago by men. They said some things were not for women, and I believed them. And I live with those old “beliefs” — for that is what they are — to this day. I’m sure I’m wrong in the eyes of many, but I am content in myself. The things I was denied as a female Jew in the predominantly male Jewish world of my growing-up time set patterns for me that even now, when my choice is to keep or break them, I choose the former.
Believe it or not, this isn’t always easy. My congregation allows me to bless the Torah, but when I ascend the bima to do so, I do not touch it. I do not carry any on Simchat Torah. When one is paraded past me on Shabbat mornings, I “kiss” it with the binding of my prayer book. This is how I grew up, and it still satisfies me. However, a (male) rabbi once, fairly recently, chastised me for not donning a tallit: “Why are you denying yourself that spirituality?” was what he asked. And I answered, “My spirituality does not reside in a piece of cloth.” I was not happy with his question, and I’m sure he wasn’t happy with my response, either.
Girls of my time did not go to Hebrew school, and a bat mitzvah was not yet a rite of female passage. So, I never felt deprived of things that clearly were not mine, and I grew up happily Jewish without them. I still live happily Jewish without them. I have not wanted a bat mitzvah as an adult any more than I want to wear a tallit or adopt the straps and boxes of tefillin. I am happy for girls — and women — of today who have these opportunities and want to take advantage of them, but I am not envious.
For me, religion and spirituality — Judaism and Jewish spirituality — go together. They are united in my very bones, and cannot be separated. And I feel the latter in a way of internal peace that needs no external enhancement.
So: What does it mean, to “jar your mother’s pickles”? Maybe to put cucumbers and brine together in a jar and let them sit and mellow into something quite different — an act of creation of a sort. Or it could mean to shake the jar — maybe to the point of its falling and shattering, destroying its contents altogether. I choose the first. The opportunities open to women today do not upset my metaphoric pickles, which continue to satisfy me as I live happily, and Jewishly, without them.
Your opinions are welcome.

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In memory of a dear friend from whom I learned

Posted on 02 January 2019 by admin

I begin the New Year without my dear old friend Charlotte. The adjectives are true: She was very dear to me for many years, and she was well over 90 when she left this earth.
When I moved to Dallas back in 1980, one of the first things I did was connect with the local unit of the National Federation of Press Women, which had been both my professional and friendship anchor in Illinois. And the first meeting I attended here was in Charlotte’s home. Yes, I have also made many friends in that group over these many years, but Charlotte was the first. And the first is often the best.
She lingered for a long time, but until very close to the very end, she remained the essence of herself. In truth, I worried more during those last weeks about her husband, who was the major caretaker even when hospice had been declared. He was long retired from teaching English to young women in the upper school at Hockaday; afterward, he organized a poetry group at the church he and Charlotte attended: Northaven United Methodist. It walks the walk when it talks about honoring diversity; this is the place that has given permanent welcome and space to Beth El Binah, our city’s religious haven for many LBGTQ Jews, when their congregation outgrew its former Oak Lawn home.
Yes, we have many differences, but we are very good friends who have learned from each other. Charlotte and Tom attended a Seder in my home; an ornament I gave them years ago now hangs this season in their home, despite the absence of the usual Christmas tree and no festivities, not even a trip to church. Charlotte’s worn body couldn’t last that long.
My friends and I differ in our beliefs, but respect and honor each other’s. I did not comment when Charlotte was cremated rather than buried; I had known for years that this was the end-of-life choice for both of them. She drew her last breath — which was the classic “death rattle” — at 5:10 a.m. one week before Christmas. By the time Tom had called and I arrived at their house, functionaries from the Neptune Society had already come, dressed Charlotte in her favorite yellow suit (yes, she had asked for that, long beforehand) and taken her away. Tom says her ashes will be flown over an ocean, and that is another choice they made together for her remains — and later, for his: to mingle as quickly as possible with the natural world.
I have attended church with them on important occasions, the best being Charlotte’s 90th birthday. Since she was born on Valentine’s Day, she wore a red suit then instead of her favorite yellow one. And her wheelchair was festooned with red ribbons and balloons. My takeaway from that occasion, in addition to the wonderful buffet of sweets set up in the foyer after the service — everything made by women of the church from Charlotte’s own favorite recipes — was what the minister said when it was time for everyone to stand for a particular prayer: Not the usual “Please rise if you are able,” but the much gentler and more inclusive “Please rise — in body, or in spirit.” I like that better…
The next time I go to their church will be for Charlotte’s memorial service, which Tom immediately decided to postpone until January, so that nobody’s Christmas and New Year celebrations would be dampened by his loss. And then, I will rise myself — in body if able, but certainly in spirit — to eulogize my dear old friend. With a voice no longer of much good use, I will still talk/sing Debbie Friedman’s “Mishaberach,” after explaining how and why it came to be, and translating the bits of Hebrew it contains. I hope the “renewal of spirit” will come to all of us who knew and loved Charlotte, and will remain with us always.

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This book gets you going in the right direction

Posted on 19 December 2018 by admin

After the mountain of books I’ve read in my lifetime, I’ve finally found the one-and-only written just for me: “I’ll Never Get Lost Again: The Complete Guide to Improving Your Sense of Direction” by Linda Grekin.
Not everyone knows that I don’t have any. I never make a “thing” of it until something happens. But there it is. My mother was bad, I’m worse, and my daughter is even “worser.” She believes it’s a sex-linked trait because her brother and her two sons are not similarly afflicted. Whatever: It’s a real handicap.
On a recent Friday, I was due at my hosts’ home for a synagogue-arranged group Shabbat dinner. I knew how to get to the house: straight north on Hillcrest (I do know that street’s direction), turn left on Beltline, turn right on Meadowcreek, turn again at the third street on the right. And I was right. But somehow, I got lost anyway. I did something wrong somewhere, wound up on Hillcrest again, drove around fairly frantically while not knowing where I was or which way I was headed, until I finally hit (not literally, thank the Good Lord) a gas station that gave me specific directions. When at last I arrived, the group was lighting the Sabbath candles – and praying for my safety.
If you’re thinking this must be an occasional happening, please think again. One evening, I tried to find a home on a street that runs west of Coit (yes, I know west for some areas I’ve been before) for a meeting. But when I couldn’t even find the right street, I decided to go back to Coit and try again. And then, I couldn’t even find Coit.
So, I just drove, randomly, not recognizing any street names, until I finally located a gas station (always my best bet) and went inside to ask directions. Already too late for the meeting, I thought I’d just head for home. When they asked where I wanted to go, I said to any main street in Dallas. Guess what? I was in Addison, a few short blocks north of Beltline. I reached my house an hour and 10 minutes after I’d left, having done nothing but drive the whole time.
To help me out, I consult maps before I go anywhere. But I have to turn them around to figure out in which direction I must travel. This book tells me that’s a common “solution” for people like me. It also tells me there are others who can sit in their own dining room and not be able to tell what room is directly above it on the second floor – even after having lived in the same house for years. Or why I’m a whiz at word puzzles but a dud at solving mental manipulation of what something would look like if it’s turned around to another angle.
But it doesn’t explain why my high school geometry teacher somehow figured out that I was drawing my graphs by the “squint and guess” method (the same way I still hang pictures on walls) and was so good at faking it that until his class, I’d managed to fool everyone else…
I go into buildings by one entrance, go out another and don’t know the difference until I’ve walked several blocks in the wrong direction. I ride DART frequently, but I’m always worried that I might be on the wrong side of the platform to catch the right train. And while all this may sound funny to you, for me, it has major costs in time, energy, frayed nerves and embarrassment.
Author Grekin hasn’t really solved my problem, but she has reassured me how not-alone I am, that some big names share my problem, including the original Ann Landers. I always knew she never drove, but until now, I didn’t know why.
Today, I’m sending a copy of this book to my daughter. Mine, I’ll never part with.

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A 7-year-old girl, Pearl Harbor Day and Zaidy’s watch

Posted on 13 December 2018 by admin

This isn’t the column I originally wrote for today. You can read that next week. Instead, I’m adding my story to Jerry Kasten’s great column of last week, the day before Pearl Harbor Day.
Dec. 7, 1941. Believe it or not, I remember it well. I was 7 years old, wearing a maroon taffeta dress, all fancied up because I was old enough to go to the special luncheon honoring my mother’s father for his service to the Knights of Pythias Lodge. I didn’t even know what a lodge was, but it was exciting to see Zaidy get a gold pocket watch with his name and the date engraved on the back.
A man gave a speech. Then Zaidy got up to read his thank-you when all hell broke loose outside. Everyone ran to the windows, and there were people screaming hysterically. The news had just broken: The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.
It took quite a while before things quieted down, and when my Zaidy finally stood up again, he tore up his own speech, looked around the room and pointed to each of his five sons sitting there. “All of you will go,” he said. “And I hope all of you will come back.” And then he cried. I never saw my Zaidy cry before — or any time after.
Yes, they all enlisted — the very next day. But before they left home, they took the watch to the jeweler and had him add “Remember Pearl Harbor” to the engraving. Uncle Ben, Uncle Srol, Uncle Yos — all joined the Army, serving (in this order) in Africa, Italy and Belgium. Uncles Lou and Nate went into the Merchant Marine, and sailed to places I’d never heard of before. And, yes — they all came back.
When they did, my Boubby the Philosopher removed her Five-Star banner from the front window, and her sons pooled their money to buy a really big house for their really big family. We’ve looked up the sale: three floors — seven bedrooms — very large living room, dining room, kitchen: $4,100 in 1945. The family’s first dinner there was on Thanksgiving Day that year. Imagine what a Thanksgiving that was.
Maybe I’ve told some of you all of this in the past. Maybe I’ve even shown you the watch — because I have it. After Zaidy and Boubby passed away, after Uncles Ben and Yos and Nate and Lou had joined them, Uncle Srol, the only son left, gave it to me — the oldest child of the oldest child in that family of 12 children: my mother.
Uncle Srol (Yiddish shorthand for his Hebrew name, Yisroel) is now 96, a proud World War II veteran. And healthy. He still drives — but not at night. He still works — but it’s his own business, so he can do as he pleases. And he still lives in that big house, all by himself, so that anyone in the family who comes “home” to visit has a place to stay.
And I wear the watch now, on a gold chain, on every patriotic occasion, and tell its story to everyone I can. I speak about it to groups, and when individuals notice and comment on it, I tell them, too. So maybe you’ve seen it and heard about it already. But if not, look for me whenever there’s a day to show the flag; I’ll be showing the watch as well. Keep an eye out for it.
But now: Do the math. I was 7 years old on the real Pearl Harbor Day, so I wonder today about what to do with the watch when it’s my time to join that crowd somewhere other than where I am now. Who should get it? My daughter Devra and my first cousin David are both my Zaidy Dave’s namesakes. (But of course, a girl would wear it on a chain…)
Jerry: Keep on keeping on, with my heartfelt thanks to you.

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Final Hanukkah card stirs memories

Posted on 05 December 2018 by admin

It is the middle of Hanukkah, and in memory of a dear friend who passed away earlier this year (and if you didn’t know her, I feel sorry for you), I’m going to share some of her words. I saved the card she sent me last year at this time, because we both suspected this would be her last one…
Natalie Lewis started out by writing “I read your column ‘The Simplicity of Hanukkah’s Past.’ So — when did Hanukkah change from Boubby’s day of pennies?” She was already well into her 90s then, and began her own story of the holiday’s memories for me:
“What do I remember about my childhood Hanukkah? We did not have a menorah; we lit the candles — they were orange — on a tin lid from a coffee can. My mother made latkes. My grandmother gave me some coins — gelt — and I said ‘Oh! I can put these in the Blue Box.’ That was a big deal for me.” (Again: I hope you know what a Blue Box was — and still is. If you don’t, ask any member of Hadassah, which was Natalie’s most favorite organization.)
Then she continued: “I grew up, married, had a family and my mother-in-law gave us a menorah, which I still use. My young friends began talking about ‘a gift each night,’ and we fell for it. My mother and dad started sending gelt for the kids, my aunts sent gelt, so there was always more than enough for the eight nights. As the kids grew older, I started ‘Christmas Clubs’ at the bank. This was easy, and on Hanukkah, everyone received a big check. Then the banks discontinued the clubs, so I had a new challenge.
“Now I make sure I have Hanukkah cards and stamps — oh, this is a big deal. The adults get gift cards. I write checks for the grandchildren and call it gelt. Could I do it over again — why not a special story, or doing a mitzvah? But we cannot turn the clock back, can we? When the children were little, I dressed them in their red PJs and my husband set up the movie camera — that was such a big deal, with all the cords and bulbs — and then we sent the movies to my parents, and my mother said she cried when she saw them lighting the candles. So maybe we did something right after all…who knows?
“There have been many stories told about Hanukkah in the past,” Natalie continued. “Someone wrote about an uncle coming with a handful of quarters, and all the children would stand in line to get theirs, and as the family grew, he needed more quarters. And Margaret Smith (who also passed away last year — and if you didn’t know her either, I feel sorry for you again) told me she gave the children dollar bills for each candle — one for the first candle and two for the second, until they got eight dollars for the last candle.
“But the candle lighting is the best. Watch the small children’s eyes and faces as they catch the candles burning — and the old grandma who watches the candles and says ‘Look how beautiful they burn’ …
“I got a good box this year,” she said. And she ended with “So, let us see what next Hanukkah will bring.”
Well, of course we know. The holiday has come back, as it always does, every year, but it couldn’t bring Natalie back with it. However, I will never forget her and her menorah, which I helped her pack as she prepared to move from Dallas. I will have that memory always, and will save this card, her last words to me on Hanukkah, to read them over again as I light my own candles every year that I have left for me to do so. In that way, I will honor her while giving a special Hanukkah gift to myself.

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25 tidbits to live by this season

Posted on 29 November 2018 by admin

As we prepare to enter Hanukkah this year, let’s pack a bag to take with us, filled with two dozen bits of wisdom from the late beloved Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe.
These came from a number of different sources, and in no particular order, except you should be prepared for the last one. But don’t look ahead. (Do, however, pay special attention to No. 14; it’s perfect for all of us at this time of this year.)
1. You cannot add more minutes to the day, but you can utilize each one to the fullest.
2. Lead a supernatural life and God will provide the miracles.
3. Existence is the greatest of all miracles.
4. Wealth is not a mansion filled with silver and gold. Wealth is children and grandchildren growing up on the right path.
5. This is the key to time management: to see the value of every moment.
6. When the soul is starved for nourishment, it lets us know with feelings of emptiness, anxiety or yearning.
7. There is no need to accept the standards of the world at large.
8. When you waste a moment, you have killed it in a sense, squandering an irreplaceable opportunity. But when you use the moment properly, filling it with purpose and productivity, it lives on forever.
9. God gave each of us a soul, which is a candle that He gives us to illuminate our surroundings with His light.
10. Man can never be happy if he does not nourish his soul as he does his body.
11. We cannot rest until every child, boy and girl, receives a proper moral education.
12. A successful marriage is dependent on inviting God into the relationship.
13. Love is the transcendence of the soul over the body.
14. Your home should become a light that illuminates the entire street and community.
15. Charity transforms matter to spirit, and turns a coin into fire.
16. We must translate pain into action, and tears into growth.
17. If you see what needs to be repaired and how to repair it, then you have found a piece of the work that God has left for you to complete. But if you only see what is wrong, and how ugly it is, then it is you yourself that needs repair.
18. Miracles are all around us; we must open our eyes to see them.
19. Everyone must be a leader.
20. The world says that time is money; I say that time is life.
21. If you wait until you find the meaning of life, will there be enough life left to live meaningfully?
22. What matters is not so much where you stand, but with what force you are moving in which direction.
23. Our mission on earth is to recognize the voice — inside and outside of us — and to fill it.
24. All Jews share one and the same Torah, given by the one and same God. While there are more-observant Jews and less-observant ones, to tack on a label does not change the reality that we are all one.
25. This last is not from the Rebbe, but from Max Edelkopf of New York, who posted it on Facebook more than two years ago, but it is fresh and new and real, today more than ever:
At a conference for neurologists that took place in the United States, a professor got up to explain why it is that there are people who, upon arising in the morning, suddenly faint. It seems that this is a problem many people suffer from, and the speaker explained that it takes 12 seconds for the blood to leave the feet and get up to the brain, and if someone gets up very quickly, he or she could faint. She recommended that all people, upon arising in the morning, sit for at least 12 seconds before they actually get up. At this point, a Jewish professor got up and said, “I’d like to explain to you that the Jewish people have had a custom for thousands of years: to praise God upon arising. And the prayer that they say is exactly 12 words long — and if you say it properly, it takes 12 seconds.”
Enjoy. Have a Happy, Happy Hanukkah.
Harriet Gross can be reached at harrietgross@sbcglobal.net.

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How we can give thanks despite recent tragedies

Posted on 29 November 2018 by admin

An update: My dining room table is still the repository for newspapers, both secular and Jewish, sent to me by Pittsburgh family in the days following the Tree of Life massacre. Anyone who wants to see the remarkable outpouring of “Love Is Stronger Than Hate,” just let me know.

The Steelers even changed their three-icon stack logo for print, substituting a Star of David for the one on top. And things continue to come in; I don’t know how long this will go on.

But we must go on. All of us. Thanksgiving is upon us. How can anyone affected by such evil as we’ve recently witnessed (and I do not discount the 12 who died soon after the earlier tragedy, also by gunshot, in a California country music bar) — which should be just about everyone in our country — give thanks for anything after such horrors? (Maybe just the selfish thought of personal safety — at least up to this point.)

I found the best answer yet by happy accident when I picked up a random magazine while waiting in a doctor’s office. It was the newest issue of Family Circle, and the message from Cheryl Brown, its editor-in-chief, was right on point — even though it was written well before both these recent tragedies.

She begins by telling how she was running late for work one morning, carrying too many things — including a carton of yogurt and a cup of coffee — and when she saw an elevator door starting to close on its upward way toward her office, she just threw herself in. A man already inside who saw how upset she was helped her get organized, and then he said this: “Hey, things aren’t so bad — you’ve got breakfast and a job. Try to see the positive side.”

What Brown thought was, “He’s absolutely right.” And then she listed her blessings: A roof over her head, with heat. Food. Clean clothes. Health. Family and friends. This started her on some conversations, first with those friends and then with the magazine’s staff, about the necessity for gratitude, the real need for people to be thankful for whatever they have. If they manage to have the things she listed, which most of those who read Family Circle do have and yet likely take for granted: “That makes us rich by almost any standard,” she decided.

The elevator encounter turned out to set the theme for the entire issue of Family Circle that I was holding in my hands, with its focus on how all people can and should give back, in appreciation for what they already have. The suggestion is that doing things to help others — no matter how little those things are — becomes the building blocks of both family and community.

Brown ends her monthly editorial column with this timely — and humorous — personal touch: “Every year I’m thankful I have somewhere to go for the Thanksgiving holiday meal,” she begins. “This year, I’m also thankful I’m not doing any cooking, only some bringing.” To finish, she gives an additional thank-you for the great bakeries in New York City, where she works and lives, and where she can pick up something good for the “bringing.”

I continue to wonder what the bereaved families in both Pittsburgh and Thousand Oaks can manage to give thanks for this year. Is it possible that this year will be a strange Thanksgiving without thanks? The brutality of those sad days took away loved ones and replaced that take-away with nothing but sadness, longing and those haunting “what if?” questions: Why them? Why there? What if they hadn’t been wanting to pray, or to hear some favorite songs? These are the questions without answers.

But at our own tables this year, how about all of us saying a prayer and singing a song in their memory? Making memories of those we didn’t even know might be our own “giving back.”

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How we can give thanks despite recent tragedies

Posted on 26 November 2018 by admin

An update: My dining room table is still the repository for newspapers, both secular and Jewish, sent to me by Pittsburgh family in the days following the Tree of Life massacre. Anyone who wants to see the remarkable outpouring of “Love Is Stronger Than Hate,” just let me know.

The Steelers even changed their three-icon stack logo for print, substituting a Star of David for the one on top. And things continue to come in; I don’t know how long this will go on.

But we must go on. All of us. Thanksgiving is upon us. How can anyone affected by such evil as we’ve recently witnessed (and I do not discount the 12 who died soon after the earlier tragedy, also by gunshot, in a California country music bar) — which should be just about everyone in our country — give thanks for anything after such horrors? (Maybe just the selfish thought of personal safety — at least up to this point.)

I found the best answer yet by happy accident when I picked up a random magazine while waiting in a doctor’s office. It was the newest issue of Family Circle, and the message from Cheryl Brown, its editor-in-chief, was right on point — even though it was written well before both these recent tragedies.

She begins by telling how she was running late for work one morning, carrying too many things — including a carton of yogurt and a cup of coffee — and when she saw an elevator door starting to close on its upward way toward her office, she just threw herself in. A man already inside who saw how upset she was helped her get organized, and then he said this: “Hey, things aren’t so bad — you’ve got breakfast and a job. Try to see the positive side.”

What Brown thought was, “He’s absolutely right.” And then she listed her blessings: A roof over her head, with heat. Food. Clean clothes. Health. Family and friends. This started her on some conversations, first with those friends and then with the magazine’s staff, about the necessity for gratitude, the real need for people to be thankful for whatever they have. If they manage to have the things she listed, which most of those who read Family Circle do have and yet likely take for granted: “That makes us rich by almost any standard,” she decided.

The elevator encounter turned out to set the theme for the entire issue of Family Circle that I was holding in my hands, with its focus on how all people can and should give back, in appreciation for what they already have. The suggestion is that doing things to help others — no matter how little those things are — becomes the building blocks of both family and community.

Brown ends her monthly editorial column with this timely — and humorous — personal touch: “Every year I’m thankful I have somewhere to go for the Thanksgiving holiday meal,” she begins. “This year, I’m also thankful I’m not doing any cooking, only some bringing.” To finish, she gives an additional thank-you for the great bakeries in New York City, where she works and lives, and where she can pick up something good for the “bringing.”

I continue to wonder what the bereaved families in both Pittsburgh and Thousand Oaks can manage to give thanks for this year. Is it possible that this year will be a strange Thanksgiving without thanks? The brutality of those sad days took away loved ones and replaced that take-away with nothing but sadness, longing and those haunting “what if?” questions: Why them? Why there? What if they hadn’t been wanting to pray, or to hear some favorite songs? These are the questions without answers.

But at our own tables this year, how about all of us saying a prayer and singing a song in their memory? Making memories of those we didn’t even know might be our own “giving back.”

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‘Suitcase Charlie’ a mystery with Jewish shadings

Posted on 14 November 2018 by admin

I’d like to tell you about a book that’s somewhat of an enigma: It actually borders on humor in the way it’s presented, but the story is dead (and I use that word because it truly fits the text) serious about matters that are important to us as Jews — especially since this is so soon after Kristallnacht.
Let’s see what I can tell you without giving away too much, because I really hope you’ll read it for yourself. It’s a very unusual addition to the mounds of previous writings that we call, collectively, “Jewish books.”
This is “Suitcase Charlie,” named for the way in which someone transported his murder victims — three of them — all young children. Not necessarily Jewish children, but there was a clue that defied meaning at first, yet couldn’t be ignored and was finally interpreted. On the soles of each small corpse’s feet were triangles — on one, pointing up; on the other, pointing down. A severed Jewish star.
The setting is Chicago, and if you ever lived in that city, you will identify throughout with the specifics as they’re woven by name into the story: the neighborhoods, the parks, the streets, the landmarks. But even if you don’t know the city, you’ll always be interested in, sometimes even amused by, the lead characters: a pair of policemen, partners assigned to do some legwork on this perplexing and frightening case. (No — not the suitcases — although that word also has a perplexing, frightening connotation here.)
Marvin Bondarowicz is Jewish; Hank Purcell is not. They are beat cops reporting to Lieutenant O’Herlihy, and we readers follow the first two as they follow — or don’t follow — the direction of the third. We learn how different they are at home from how they are on the street, which is pure old Chicago in every way. They break the rules, get called out, even threatened with being fired, but they persevere as the people they are, the only way they could ever be. So their search becomes as gritty as the city itself, and the two pull the reader along with their diverse, sometimes dangerous and sometimes diverting, actions and interactions.
“Suitcase Charlie” runs to 314 pages of the swiftest reading ever — the writer’s command of American/Chicago vernacular helps move you along at a quick clip through a lot of fast action. And that may be somewhat of a surprise coming from this author, because John Guzlowski was born in a displaced persons camp to Polish parents who met while slave-laboring under the Nazis.
Somehow, that little family wound up in Chicago, in a part of town that gave Guzlowski plenty of material to spark this story. As he grew up, he saw houses burned and people beaten and killed in the street. But he overcame in the biggest way. He graduated from the University of Illinois with a B.A. in English, then went on to get both M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Purdue, and finally became professor of English literature at Eastern Illinois University before retiring to Virginia, where he’s now a literary critic and poet of an award-winning collection, “Echoes of Tattered Tongues.” In much of his other writing — and there has been much — Guzlowski recalls those who didn’t survive the war. But in this one, he’s honoring those who didn’t survive Chicago.
The clue on the book’s back cover is not just an invitation; it’s a scene-setting puller-inner: “May 30, 1956: On a quiet corner of a working-class neighborhood, a suitcase is discovered…inside is the body of a young boy, hacked to pieces…Two hard-driving detectives are assigned to the case…Purcell still has flashbacks ten years after the Battle of the Bulge; Bondarowicz, a wisecracking Jewish cop who loves trouble as much as he loves booze…Their investigation takes them through the dark streets of Chicago in search of an even darker secret…”
This mystery will be solved on Dec. 4, with the book’s official publication.

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